Dome tops casino shortlist

The Millennium Dome is the front-runner in the race to open the first super-casino.

The announcement came yesterday after weeks of controversy over John Prescott’s stay with Philip Anschutz, the owner of the Dome, which MPs criticised last Friday as unwise. Opposition politicians have repeatedly asked whether the Government has become too close to the billionaire and his companies.

For the first time the Casino Advisory Panel put the eight candidates on its shortlist in provisional order of suitability, with the Millennium Dome’s bid by Greenwich in the lead, followed by Glasgow, Blackpool, Sheffield, Brent, Newcastle, Cardiff and Manchester.

At the same time the panel, which will announce the venue of the super-casino in December, admitted that there was confusion about the way that it was handling the process. It said that the shortlist — which it announced in May — would be reopened, with councils that had failed to convince the panel of the merits of inclusion given a second chance. They can submit statements to the panel by August 14. Locations that have already made the shortlist will not be removed at this stage.

News of the unexpected change to the process will dismay the Government, which wanted it to appear as transparent and straightforward as possible. The change has come after intensive lobbying by casino companies and the local councils hoping to benefit from their arrival. The panel also ranked the shortlist of 31 proposed venues for large and small casinos, putting East Lindsey, Great Yarmouth, Luton and Solihull in the lead.

Professor Stephen Crow, the panel chairman, said that local authority bidders had misunderstood what was going on. “The panel is prepared to extend the shortlists if, taken together with the existing information previously submitted, a local authority produces information that the panel considers justifies its inclusion on the relevant shortlist,” he said yesterday.

Entrants were judged on a set of eight different criteria, each of which attracted a possible score of ten points. Greenwich, which bid on behalf of the Dome and scored 67, failed to score a perfect 10 in any of the 8 categories, receiving 8 or 9 points for each.

Hugo Swire, the Shadow Culture Secretary, said: “Greenwich are in the unenviable position where, if they are successful, their competitors will cry foul because of the unprecedented access to the Government enjoyed by the Dome’s owners.”